The issue that my paper addresses is water bottling from springs in Florida which has spawned a lot of controversy in the past year. The policy at the center of this issue is the Florida Water Resources Act of 1972, which claimed water from lakes, rivers, and springs as Florida property, but did not assign a monetary value to it. Local residents, conservation activists, tourists, and even outdoors enthusiasts are concerned about their springs which has recently suffered from many environmental issues including degraded water quality, dying animals, and receding vegetation.
Another critique comes from the fact that these residents pay taxes to help recharge the water in the area along with other conservation efforts, while companies are allowed to withdraw a large amount of water for free. According to the permit, companies only have to pay an application fee of $115 and then they are able to withdraw one million gallons per day at no additional costs. It was these concerns that inspired Florida representatives to introduce bills that would rectify the effects that bottling companies had on the local community with an excise tax.
However, there are groups who oppose this as they believe that an excise wouldn’t protect the springs in Florida because it would just encourage companies to relocate so the state wouldn’t receive the tax revenue. They have also said that only water bottling companies are targeted instead of the others in the agricultural and bottled beverages industry. Those with competing views believe that the extraction from companies like Nestlé amount to a small percentage of consumptive water use, so it is not a big issue.
They might also disagree with taxing renewable resources like non-renewable resources as there is little precedence. However, I believe that state legislators need to act quickly before it is too late to protect our aquifers and prevent more degradation to our recreational springs.
My suggested policy goals for the state of Florida is a combination and continuation of the previously introduced legislation that was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration on March 14th, 2020. While there were senate bills also introduced to address this issue, my policy goals will focus on Florida’s state government. State Senator Anne Taddeo introduced Senate Bill 1112 which would have implemented a state excise tax of 12.5 cents a gallon on water that is bottled and subsequently sold from water that is extracted from our state’s water supply. It would also require them to report the amount of water they extracted. If these companies do not pay the full amount or if they do not report what’s required of them, they would be subject to penalties that include a 12% interest rate on unpaid taxes with the funds going to the state’s Wastewater Treatment & Stormwater Management Revolving Loan Trust Fund.The amount of the 12.5 cents tax comes from the amount that what water companies, bottling water supplied from public water sources, pay per gallon which is why this bill does not apply to companies who use public water systems for their water bottling. Then, Representative Matt Willhite sponsored a bill (HB 861) that included the same policies. Senator Janet Cruz also introduced SB 1098 which would charge 5 cents per gallon to bottle water with fines for those who do not comply with the law.The funds from this will go to the state’s Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund. These bills were not the first effort from the state to address this issue. Over a decade ago, in 2009, Charlie Christ (then governor of Florida) suggested an extraction tax of 6-cent-a-gallon, but he did not get a lot of support.
Instead of an excise tax, the state should implement a severance tax, so that state water would be added to existing legislation dealing with mining, oil, and gas extraction. Water bottling companies should be charged 12.5 cents a gallon, but the funds from this collected tax should go toward the Water Protection and Sustainability Program Trust Fund like Cruz proposed. However, Florida should expand this tax to also apply to companies who extract water for teas, juice, and soda.Additionally, Florida legislatures should consider increasing the cost of a consumptive use permit to at least $1 million along with the implementation of a charge bottle 5 cents per gallon water derived from a spring for bottled drinking water. Along with my suggested policy goals, Florida legislatures also need to reevaluate the 1972 Florida Water Resources Act that is at the center of many water issues. In their evaluation, legislatures should make a clear statement on whether attempts to add economic value to extracted water violates it.
Florida is one state that I believe will be hit hardest economically due to the coronavirus since we rely so much on tourism, social events, local businesses, as well as the cruise and airline industry. With the restrictions on national and international travel along with many stay at home orders, Florida is expected to lose millions of dollars when this is all over. So what does Florida gain from my proposed severance tax and increase in permit fees? They could receive millions of dollars of tax revenue from these bottling companies. As water levels globally decrease due to Climate change and a growing population, a bill like this would help protect Florida’s water resources from overuse by using market mechanisms. Multiple studies have shown that Florida’s springs are under intense stress and degradation, but that hasn’t stopped bottling companies from requesting water extraction permits. While these companies might bring new jobs to communities, they are also hindering other jobs and sources of revenue from people who are dealing with decreased water flow from the springs and degraded water quality. If Florida does not effectively address this issue soon, in the future we would need to have a ban on bottled water extractions like Washington. These proposed policies are important because it’s a chance for the state of Florida to recover revenue from their exploited resources that the public doesn’t benefit from. While water is a renewable resource, it does not mean that it is infinite. As our country suffers through droughts and contaminated drinking water, we will learn to treat our water like a resource that isn’t renewable which is the goal of the severance fees.
After I’ve done my research on my issue, my local and state legislators, the potential committees that would vote on my bill, and those who might oppose this bill, I would need to form a coalition.
Contact My Legislator:
Before the start of the next legislative session, I would write a personal email to Senator Gary M. Farmer, Jr. as he represents Fort Lauderdale– the city I live in– to relate how bottling companies negatively impact the state of Florida. I would also state how supporting my policy proposals would benefit our and the state of Florida as a whole. Lastly, I would ask him to either sponsor the bill or become a co-sponsor.
I would also encourage my allies to do the same as our goal would be to get as many co-sponsors as we can before someone introduces it. It would also be ideal if some of the local representatives my allies and I write to are also those who sit on the committee considering the bill or those who sponsored previous bills on this subject. We would need to clearly define the purpose of our relationship and try to keep in contact, so that our requests weigh more with them.
Contact Legislature Who Serve on the Committees Concerning the Bill:
Members of my coalition would contact these members once the bill moves to their committee to ask them to consider co-sponsoring the bill which would help it survive to the next step. Then, when it is time for a vote, we would send mass-emails and calls to our elected representatives to encourage them to support the bill.
Write a letter to our local newspapers detailing the issue
Current and Former state Representatives who previously sponsored legislation about water extraction:
This would include Sen. Anne Taddeo,Rep. Matt Willhite, Sen. Rob Bradley, and Sen. Janet Cruz. Since they have made previous attempts to pass bills that are similar to mine, I could ask them for advice or use my coalition to raise support for their bills if they decided to introduce another bill on this issue again.
Non-Profit Organizations that deal with water and policy issues:
This would include groups like For Love of Water, Florida Springs Council, and Sierra Club Florida as they have an interest in this policy and experience with fighting harmful companies. We could hold events together and support each others’ movements.
Local residents, conservation activists, tourists, local business groups, and even outdoors enthusiasts are my allies because they have an interest in saving springs and some rely on it for their income and entertainment.
Public leaders and newspaper columnists who are known to spread awareness about environmental issues would be natural allies as they already have experience and a base of supporters. I would try to get the newspaper connection to voice information about my bill and I would frequently recruit the public leaders to help advocate for my proposed policies.
District scientists and policy experts could be my allies if they help me interpret data and laws that would support my cause. They would also know a lot about my issue and have experience.
Nestle: This organization is my opposition because they are attempting to withdraw close to 1 million gallons of water a day from local springs and have previously shown their disapproval of an excise tax for water extraction for bottling. They say that this tax would discriminate against them, so they would take their efforts to another state. To neutralize this, my proposed tax would apply to companies who extract water for teas, juice, and soda.I would need to meet with my coalition to develop the best strategy to ensure the best strategy to address this. Do we want Nestlé to stop their extraction? Should we try to compromise with them so they pay the tax and extract less water from our springs? Nestlé says the tax is too much, but we can do research to see what available funds they could use for this.
The Wray family owns Seven Springs Water Co. which is one of the central figures in the Nestle water permit issue. They applied for the permit that Nestlé wants to renew. They try to shift the issue toward overpumping by the agricultural industry, golf courses and public water extractions, however, that water is returned to the aquifer. I would also say that those industries benefit the people of Florida whereas local residents pay to replenish the springs so that the bottled water could be sold to other states.
Local business groups and state representatives could also be my opponents if they believe that my proposed tax would mean a loss of jobs and a decrease in their sales. They might think that states should provide the funding for these springs instead of enforcing my severance tax. This tax is meant to help the economy, my data experts could do research to determine how much revenue this tax would bring to the state. I would also need to convince them that increasing water extraction and bottling the water is harmful to the spring system and is not something of public interest.